Are the New England Patriots “America’s worst nightmare”?

Last weekend’s New England Patriots victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, was described by their own TV station as “America’s worst nightmare”. The five time world champions had reached yet another world championship game this Sunday. Things were made worse by their victory only coming thanks to an overtime touchdown. They came so close to failing at the final hurdle.

So why are they hated?

In a sport that is based on parity, the Patriots have succeeded like no other team. They’ve made the Super Bowl ten times since 2000, winning it five times. The draft system in the NFL should make such dominance impossible. Unlike UK football, where anyone with a pot of cash can buy the best players and management, there is no guarantee of success.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are the stars of this astonishing achievement. 41 year old Brady has been been with the Patriots since the sixth round draft in 2000, the year Belichick joined as Head Coach. This double whammy forms the base of their success. The very fact that Brady is still playing when most men of his age have long since retired, is testimony to his preparation and dedication.

Arguably more than any other team, the Patriots know how to win. They have a formula built over 20 years of success. Yes they have an outstanding Head Coach, but they’re not afraid to mix things up. Belichick was rumoured to have created 11 plays the night before their AFC playoff game, and given it to the players in their hotel the night before the game. They successfully used those very the next day, even though they hadn’t a chance to practice them on the field. That’s either incredibly lucky, or sheer brilliance.

So will the Patriots win Super Bowl LIII by beating the Los Angeles Rams? We’ll have to wait and see, but the Rams will have to play at their best to upset the odds.

Super Bowl LII: The best ever?

If you’re a UK sports fan, you really should have stayed up to watch last night’s US Super Bowl. What’s that? You don’t follow American Football? Well if you had, this game may well have changed your mind. It had everything: pre-match hype, big hits, massive plays, tumbling records, and suspense in bucket loads.

The Philadelphia Eagles came into the game as underdogs, but you don’t get through to the Super Bowl without having something about you. Right the way through the regular season and the division playoffs, they downplayed their chances, but kept on getting results. Such resilience can’t be ignored. The fact that their regular quarterback Carson Wentz was out injured added additional speculation, with the pressure on stand in Nick Foles going up a notch or two.

The New England Patriots came into the game looking for a third successive Super Bowl victory. That this was one of the few records not to be broken on the night, says a lot for the game. Clear favourites and led by veteran Tom Brady, himself a five times winner, they failed at the final hurdle. Even then, they could have won it with the final play of the night.

Prior to kickoff, opinion was divided. The Eagles had man to man a stronger lineup. Players like Zach Ertz, Brandon Graham, Alshon Jeffery, and Corey Clement. In comparison much was made of the Patriot’s Quarterback Tom Brady and Head Coach Bill Belichick. Could their experience carry the team to a record sixth Super Bowl victory? It nearly did.

The game was played at breakneck speed, the Eagles deciding to match the Patriots no huddle offence. With such little time to organise your defence, it is hard to play against. Each side traded early field goals, and you started to wonder if it was going to be one of those strategic defensive battles. Any doubts of this type of game were soon dashed midway through the first quarter, when Nick Foles threw a 32 yard pass into the end zone where Alshon Jeffery made a spectacular catch.

Game on!

In a breathtaking first half there were three touchdowns, and some astonishingly brave plays. Early in the second quarter saw Brady running wide right without the ball. A trick play on a third down, the ball was tossed to him but he just failed to catch it. He was wide open. It was a key moment in the game. When Foles did the same later in the half, but in the end zone and successfully, you just had to step back and admire the audacity of such plays. In doing so Foles became the first player to throw and catch a touchdown in Super Bowl history.

Both teams continued the second half as they finished the first. The Patriots started to except some consistent pressure with Rob Gronkowski adding two touchdowns, and Chris Hogan another. For the first time in the game, the Patriots led. Would they repeat last year’s performance and put the Eagles to the sword? Not a bit of it. Back came Zach Ertz with a touchdown that set up the game for an exhilarating last few minutes.

Brady did his best to get the one big play that could see him win his sixth Super Bowl ring. He used all of his experience to drive the offence down the field, but ultimately came up short. His final hopeful throw into the end zone could have won it on another day, but that day wasn’t yesterday. The Eagles had won with a squad who between them had only seven appearances in a Super Bowl. Brady had seven appearances just by himself!

If you want more evidence of just how spectacular this game was, here’s two more statistics that beggar belief. There were no sacks, and only one punt the entire game. Admittedly Brady’s fumble near the end was a good as a sack in real terms, and Brandon Graham can take real credit for that. It was his hand that striped the ball from Brady’s glove and effectively sealed the Eagles victory.

Now throw in the following:

  • The Patriots became the first team in NFL history to advance the ball over 600 yards and lose.
  • The Eagles conceded the highest number of points by a winning team in the Super Bowl.
  • Brady was the first quarterback in any NFL game to lose after throwing more than 500 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions.

So the Vince Lomardi trophy went to Philadelphia for the first time in the franchise’s history and Head Coach Doug Pederson received the traditional Gatorade bath. Ther’ll be one hell of a party there in the coming days.

I’ve stayed up the watch the Super Bowl on many occasions. Regrettably I went to bed at half time last year with the Patriots being thrashed. I wished I’d stayed up, but I’d work in the morning. This year I booked Monday off, and boy was I glad I did. Getting to bed at 3:30am isn’t everybody’s idea of fun, but this was a small sacrifice to make for what was a thoroughly enthralling contest. It may not have the dramatic impact of the Patriot’s come back last year, but the sheer athleticism, audacity, and strategic brilliance from both sides made it a spectacle that will live long in the memory.